Air­port clashes raise stakes in Hong Kong protests

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY GERRY SHIH AND TIMOTHY MCLAUGH­LIN

Riot po­lice armed with pep­per spray and ba­tons clashed with pro­test­ers late Tues­day at Hong Kong’s air­port, bring­ing vi­o­lence to the key in­ter­na­tional hub while pas­sen­gers were stranded in­side af­ter many de­part­ing flights were can­celed.

The po­lice in­ter­vened af­ter a fren­zied mob of pro­test­ers seized a man, claim­ing he was an un­der­cover Chi­nese po­lice of­fi­cer, and blocked paramedics from trans­port­ing him for hours af­ter he lost con­scious­ness. Later Tues­day night, the group seized a sec­ond Chi­nese man, iden­ti­fied by his doc­u­ments and his ed­i­tor as a re­porter for the Global Times, the Chi­nese Communist Party-run news­pa­per.

Ar­rivals and de­par­tures re­turned to nor­mal Wed­nes­day morn­ing Hong Kong time. Also Wed­nes­day, Hong Kong’s air­port author­ity said it had ob­tained a court or­der to pre­vent peo­ple from ob­struct­ing the ter­mi­nal or

par­tic­i­pat­ing in any protest at the air­port other than in a des­ig­nated area.

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, Pres­i­dent Trump weighed in, tweet­ing: “Our In­tel­li­gence has in­formed us that the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment is mov­ing troops to the Bor­der with Hong Kong. Ev­ery­one should be calm and safe!” He did not elab­o­rate, and it is not clear whether he based the tweet on new in­for­ma­tion or on widely cir­cu­lated re­ports Mon­day about Chi­nese ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers mass­ing on the Hong Kong-China bor­der.

The in­ci­dents marked a brazen es­ca­la­tion by pro­test­ers in con­fronting those they per­ceive as in­fil­tra­tors from main­land China and capped a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive day of chaos at Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port, nor­mally among the busiest in the world. Au­thor­i­ties have not been able to quell months of protests in the city, a global financial hub.

Af­ter mass can­cel­la­tions Mon­day evening, flights had been grad­u­ally re­turn­ing to nor­mal through­out Tues­day, even as thou­sands of black-clad demon­stra­tors re­turned to oc­cupy parts of the air­port, car­ry­ing plac­ards de­nounc­ing po­lice bru­tal­ity and call­ing for free­dom for Hong Kong.

But by late af­ter­noon, with pro­test­ers us­ing lug­gage carts as makeshift bar­ri­cades and block­ing pas­sen­gers from reach­ing the de­par­ture gates, caus­ing long lines, au­thor­i­ties said they were sus­pend­ing check-in at both of the air­port’s ter­mi­nals.

Ar­gu­ments erupted be­tween frus­trated pas­sen­gers and pro­test­ers, with some stranded pas­sen­gers cry­ing and say­ing they just wanted to get home.

A more dis­turb­ing scene be­gan tak­ing shape later in the day when a group of pro­test­ers sur­rounded a man they be­lieved to be an un­der­cover po­lice of­fi­cer from Shen­zhen, the Chi­nese city across the bor­der from Hong Kong. There was no con­fir­ma­tion of the man’s iden­tity or em­ploy­ment, but the pro­test­ers tied his hands and did not let him move or leave for hours.

Those clos­est to the melee held their phones aloft and tried to film the strug­gling man, while some jeered and laughed at him. Pro­test­ers held a hand­made sign over the man that read in English, “I am China’s po­lice. I pre­tend to be pro­tester,” as he ap­peared to strug­gle to re­main con­scious.

Po­lice en­tered the air­port to help the man. The pres­ence of of­fi­cers sparked chaos, with pro­test­ers spilling out of the air­port build­ing and at­tack­ing vans car­ry­ing po­lice of­fi­cers.

At one point, an of­fi­cer was over­whelmed and his ba­ton taken by pro­test­ers, who beat him with it. The group re­treated only af­ter the of­fi­cer ap­peared to pull his pis­tol from its hol­ster.

Af­ter the stand­off with po­lice, a sec­ond man was ap­pre­hended by pro­test­ers and bound to a lug­gage cart with ca­ble ties. Pro­test­ers took away his pass­port, bank cards and other personal doc­u­ments and scat­tered them on the floor. The doc­u­ments iden­ti­fied him as a re­porter at the Global Times, a na­tion­al­ist tabloid.

Hu Xi­jin, the news­pa­per’s ed­i­tor in chief, con­firmed on Twit­ter that the sec­ond man seized by pro­test­ers was a re­porter for the Chi­nese state out­let.

“I af­firm this man be­ing tied in this video is the re­porter him­self,” Hu said. “He has no other task ex­cept for re­port­ing. I sin­cerely ask the demon­stra­tors to re­lease him. I also ask for help of West re­porters.”

Trump on Tues­day de­scribed the de­vel­op­ments in Hong Kong as a “very tough sit­u­a­tion.”

“I hope it works out for ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing China, by the way,” Trump told re­porters. “I hope no­body gets hurt. I hope no­body gets killed.”

The State Depart­ment urged China to ad­here to its com­mit­ment to al­low “a high de­gree of au­ton­omy” in Hong Kong — part of an agree­ment un­der which Bri­tain re­lin­quished its for­mer colony. “We con­demn vi­o­lence and urge all sides to ex­er­cise re­straint, but re­main staunch in our sup­port for free­dom of ex­pres­sion and free­dom of peace­ful as­sem­bly in Hong Kong,” the State Depart­ment said, adding that the protests re­flect “broad con­cerns about the ero­sion of Hong Kong’s au­ton­omy.”

The demon­stra­tion at the air­port started as a peace­ful protest against po­lice use of force. Chants of “Re­turn the eye!” broke out — a ref­er­ence to an in­ci­dent Sun­day night when a young woman was shot in the eye, pos­si­bly with a bean bag round, dur­ing a clash be­tween po­lice and pro­test­ers. Se­nior of­fi­cers said Tues­day they were un­sure how the woman was in­jured.

Rov­ing teams of pro­test­ers handed snacks to stranded pas­sen­gers and ap­pealed for un­der­stand­ing as they dis­trib­uted pam­phlets de­tail­ing their case against po­lice bru­tal­ity. Oth­ers bowed re­peat­edly and said “sorry” with­out yield­ing their ground in the face of an­gry pas­sen­gers.

Po­lice said they were closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion at the air­port, work­ing with air­port au­thor­i­ties, and would care­fully con­sider the need to use force.

Pavol Cacara, a Slo­vakian ma­chin­ery im­porter who faced off with pro­test­ers, said his flight to Is­tan­bul was can­celed once al­ready.

“You can­not make free­dom by tak­ing free­dom from oth­ers!” he bel­lowed, shak­ing with rage, at a mass of young demon­stra­tors in black T-shirts. “This is what the Chi­nese want you to do, to make you lose sup­port of the world. You are help­ing them!”

State­ments from Chi­nese gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and state me­dia had grown steadily more shrill be­fore Tues­day, ac­cus­ing pro­test­ers of “ter­ror­ism” and warn­ing of an im­pend­ing crack­down in the semi­au­tonomous financial cen­ter.

The po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, trig­gered by now-sus­pended plans to al­low ex­tra­di­tions to main­land China, has grown as res­i­dents of Hong Kong de­mand the ex­tra­di­tion bill’s full with­drawal, an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into po­lice ac­tions to­ward pro­test­ers, greater democ­racy and an amnesty for those ar­rested in clashes be­tween demon­stra­tors and po­lice.

The up­heaval has come at a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive time for Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping, ahead of the 70th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, which the Communist Party plans to mark with a mil­i­tary pa­rade in Oc­to­ber.

Car­rie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said the city was in dan­ger of be­ing “pushed into an abyss” and warned that it could be “smashed to pieces.”

In­ter­na­tional calls grew, mean­while, for au­thor­i­ties in Hong Kong and China to dial back ten­sions.

U.N. hu­man rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged au­thor­i­ties to im­me­di­ately in­ves­ti­gate po­lice use of force in the re­cent crack­down on protests.

Chris Pat­ten, the last Bri­tish gov­er­nor of colo­nial Hong Kong be­fore the city’s re­turn to Chi­nese sovereignt­y in 1997, warned that a Chi­nese in­ter­ven­tion would be a “catas­tro­phe” for both Hong Kong and China.

Speak­ing to BBC ra­dio, he urged Lam and Xi to find a way to bring peo­ple to­gether.

“There is a de­gree of frus­tra­tion and anger at the gov­ern­ment re­fus­ing to give any sen­si­ble ground at all,” Pat­ten said, “which prob­a­bly pro­vokes more vi­o­lence.”

MANAN VAT­SYAYANA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

An of­fi­cer falls dur­ing a scuf­fle with pro-democ­racy demon­stra­tors Tues­day at Hong Kong’s air­port.

THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

Riot po­lice at the Hong Kong air­port swung ba­tons and used pep­per spray Tues­day against pro­test­ers hold­ing a sus­pected Chi­nese agent.

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